Tips for Processing Toms for Power in a Drum Mix

Hey, guys. Matthew Weiss — weiss-sound.com, theproaudiofiles.com/members, and mixthru.co.

This is going to be all about tom drums.

So let’s take a listen to a little passage here.

[drums]

Alright. Now, I’ve got a bunch of close mics on the tom drums that are muted right now, and I’m going to discuss how I would go about approaching this.

So as with everything, we have to decide what we want. We can’t process something before we know why.

So with toms, I sort of separate the ideas into two categories, which is, “Do I want the tone of the tom, or do I want the power of the tom?” Specifically talking about the close mics.

And I think a lot of this has to do with how they function in terms of the music, and also the era of the music that we’re emulating. So in the 80’s, for example, when you think of bands like Rush, or Phil Collins, or you know, any of the Genesis stuff or anything like that, tonal tom drums comes to mind, where what we’re really hearing is the melodic component, because a lot of times, the way that the toms are being used in the classic rock world is a very tonal sensibility, and this is going to be true in certain genres of rock outside of that, and as well, like jazz will often times be all about the tone of the drums.

However, in the more modern music, like 2000 plus, when we’re looking at toms in rock songs, they’re really usually used for accenting rhythmic grooves and for power, and so in that way, the tone is much less important, and what really matters is the weight and the impact, and the attack of the tom.

So that will help guide my sense of where the toms should be living when I start processing the close mic.

So within the overheads, we already do get a fair amount of the tone of the toms.

[drums]

So that’s kind of there. What we’re not really getting is the power of them. So when I do the processing, that’s what I’m going to keep in mind.

So the first thing that I’m going to do here is I’m going to use Strip Silence, because I don’t really need anything in the tom recording, except for the actual toms themselves.

So I’m going to turn this up pretty high, and I’m going to extend the clip start, and I’m going to extend the clip end so that I get the whole of the tom, and then I’m going to remove everything else.

I’m going to do that on all of these channels.

These are going to be my tom sounds. Then what I’m going to do is double click, and I’m going to get rid of this, I’m going to hit Control+F, and I’m going to do crossfades across so that there’s no click at the end.

Alright. So now the next step is to figure out where the toms are actually going to go. I’m not a fan of super wide rolling toms that move from like, the left to the right in this big panoramic spread. To me, that almost always sounds kind of cheesy and cliché.

The way I generally like to pan my toms out is by listening to the overheads and sort of estimating where in the stereo field they kind of live with just the overheads going.

[drums]

And we can hear it pretty clearly right here.

[drums]

In the stereo spread, I’m hearing the higher tom — the first rack tom panned ever so slightly to the right. It feels like it’s maybe about 15-20 to the right.

The second rack tom, the bigger rack tom, that feels a little farther to the left. Maybe like 40 left? Maybe 50 left? Something like that.

Then the deepest tom, which is probably a small floor tom, that to me sounds like it’s probably pretty close to the left pan out. I’d put it at about 70 left.

[drums]

Alright, so let’s try that. I’m going to do 20 right, and here we’re going to do 40 — whatever, 38 — and here we’re going to do 70.

[drums]

And that sounds pretty right to me. My ear kind of goes, “Okay, this makes sense for where the toms should be.”

So now, the next thing that I want to do is I want to make sure that the close capture is in phase with the overheads. That’s really important.

So if I, for example, pull up a trim plug-in here and just go to this one right now…

[drums]

And you notice that when I hit that polarity button, the tom becomes much stronger immediately.

Before…

[tom]

After.

[tom]

Much more defined, much crisper, so obviously it was out of phase, and we have corrected that.

Then we do the same thing for every drum. So I’m just going to copy this over and we’re going to go through one at a time and see which sounds better.

[drums]

Okay, once again, this drum was out of phase, and now let’s try our rack tom.

[drums]

Okay. So I think that all of the toms are better off when they are flipped.

[drums]

So I’m just going to do this deeper rack tom here how I would process it and why, and that should give you an idea of what I’m going for.

I’m pretty aggressive with my close tom captures.

[tom]

So for me, this is a pretty tonal sounding tom, which is exactly what I don’t want. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to try to find that mid-range harmonic tone, and then I’m going to kill it. Then I’m going to play up the deepest tone of the tom, which is going to be the weight, and the highest tones of the tom, which are going to be the attack. The sound of the stick smacking the skin.

[toms]

I’m actually going to need another EQ to do this.

[toms]

So, before.

[toms]

After.

Okay, so that to me is going to be a much more cutting and stronger sounding tom. So now, I’ll take a listen to that in the mix.

[drums]

Before.

[drums]

After.

[drums]

And now, the next thing that I’m going to do, is I’m going to really just sort of get aggressive with either compression or distortion, or both.

[drums]

That’s sounding pretty good.

[toms]

So pretty aggressive. I might even boost a little more top end in there.

[drums]

There we go. And maybe my setting was just a little aggressive on this. Let me turn that down.

[drums]

And I’ll repeat that. So yeah, it sounds super aggressive when we hear just the close mic…

[tom]

But when we hear it in the context of the overall kit…

[drums]

It really doesn’t sound like it’s been processed in such a crazy way. It just sounds like a really assertive, aggressive tom, which for a lot of styles of music is perfectly fine.

Alright guys, until next time.

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com.
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